Jon Gary Williams
Articles / Resources

Article 04 - Calvinism


Jon Gary Williams

The roots of Calvinism extend back to the 16th century, during the early days of the Reformation Movement in Switzerland. John Calvin, a theologian, became a part of the growing wave of Protestantism. He, like Martin Luther in Germany, was troubled over the corruption he found in Catholic doctrine and practice.

One thing he found especially disturbing was the emphasis on works in order to reach heaven. In contrast he began emphasizing the grace of God. To him it was the grace of God versus the works of man. In his zealous opposition to Catholicism it never occurred to him that the scriptures taught a happy medium -- a combination of grace and works. So, in the formation of his position against the extreme works of Catholicism he created another extreme teaching -- extreme grace.

Calvin's views focused on the nature of man's redemption. He taught that all men are born inheritors of Adam's sin (a carryover from Catholic belief) and that man plays no part in his redemption and that the atonement for sin is limited to the elect. He felt there was nothing for man to do to be saved, that man's salvation was solely in the hands of God.

In the mid to late 1500s Calvin's views became the standard among reformation efforts throughout Europe. Hence, the term "Calvinism" came to be the identifying label of reformation theology and continues to this day; practically the entire denominational world adheres in some way to Calvinism. Calvin's efforts eventually led to the formation of the Presbyterian Church.

Actually, there are five parts to the Calvinistic doctrine, hence, it is often addressed as, "The Five Points of Calvinism." Unraveling this five-point system can become complicated but it can best be understood by remembered the acrostic: "TULIP" which designates the titles of the five parts. They are:

Total Inherited Depravity
Unconditional Special Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the saints

What, exactly, are these five points?

Calvinism Explained

I. Total Inherited Depravity

This is the teaching that all men are born guilty of Adam's sin and is sometimes referred to as the doctrine of "Original sin" or "Adamic sin." It is the belief that man enters the world totally depraved with an inherited sinful nature which is passed on from one generation to the next. It teaches that man is incapable of doing any good and his condition is so sinful he can do nothing to correct it.

However, if man is born in such a sinful state and if he can do nothing to aid himself, how then is he to be saved? This leads to the second point.

II. Unconditional Special Election

Calvin taught that since man is totally depraved it is impossible for him to choose to serve God. Therefore, it is God alone who determines who will be saved. He believed that God, through his grace, elects those who will be saved even before birth. This means that man's salvation is entirely unconditional, hence, unconditional, special election or sometimes merely unconditional election. This doctrine is also known as "predestination."

Since Calvin taught that God's grace predetermined those who would be saved, this meant also that the atonement for sin would only apply to them. This leads to the third point of Calvinism.

III. Limited Atonement

Since the only atonement for man's salvation is the blood of Christ, and since Calvin taught that only whom God has selected can be saved, this means the atoning blood of Jesus is limited to those who have been selected. Hence, all outside that group are excluded from redemption.

But if salvation through the atoning blood on the elect has been predetermined, is it possible for them to refuse redemption? This leads to point four of Calvinism.

IV. Irresistible Grace

Calvin taught that redemption through God's grace is so certain it is impossible for the elect to resist it. He believed that God accomplishes his redemptive work of grace through a direct, supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart. Hence, the elect have no choice in the matter.

If, however, the elect cannot resist God's redemptive grace, does this mean they can never be lost? This is answered in the last point of Calvinism.

V. Perseverance of the saints

Since Calvin believed salvation is entirely in the hands of God and that the elect could not resist his grace, he was forced to further teach that the elect cannot lose their redemption. This was the logical conclusion to his overall salvation theology. Hence the elect will persevere to the end. This view is sometimes called the "impossibility of apostasy" or "once saved, always saved" doctrine.

Calvinism In The Light Of Scriptures

I. Total Inherited Depravity

- Sin is not inherited, man is guilty only of his own sins (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 3:23; 14:12)
- Man will be judged for his own evil works (Matt. 16:27; Eccl. 12:14; I Pet. 1:17)
- Little children are not sinners (Matt. 18:3,4; Lk. 18:16). They have no knowledge of good
and evil (Deut. 1:39)
- Death, not sin, is passed to all mankind (Rom. 5:12)

II. Unconditional Special Election

- God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9)
- There is something for man to do (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Heb. 5:9; II Thess. 1:7,8)

III. Limited Atonement

- The atoning blood of Christ is for all (I Tim. 2:5,6; Heb. 2:9; I Jn. 2:2)
- Salvation is for all men (Acts 2:21; 10:35; 17:30; Rom. 10:13; II Pet. 3:9; I Tim. 2:3,4; John 3:16; Rev. 22:17)

IV. Irresistible Grace

This takes away man's free will (freedom of choice) and he becomes nothing more than a robot.
- Man is free to choose or not choose God (Josh. 24:15; Matt. 11:28, 29)
- Man can choose to resist the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to bring God's message. The Jews rejected this message and Stephen said that in doing so they were resisting the Holy Spirit. (Acts 7:51)

V. Perseverance of the saints

- Christians can depart from God (Heb. 3:12)
- Christians can fall from God's grace (Gal. 5:4; I Cor. 10:12; II Pet. 1:10; 3:17; Jude 24)
- Christians can deny the faith and become worse than the lost (I Tim. 5:8)
- Christians can turn away from the faith (I Tim. 1:19)
- Christians can perish (I Cor. 8:11)
- Christians can be spewed out by Christ (Rev. 3:16)
- Christians can err from God and be in danger of spiritual death (Jam. 5:19,20)
- Christians can be servants of sin which leads to spiritual death (Rom. 6:16)
- Christians can sow to the flesh and lose eternal life (Gal. 6:7,8)
- Christians can wither away or be choked (Matt.13:5-7)
- Christians will stand in judgment along with the world (II Cor. 5:10; I Pet. 4:17)
- Even the apostle Paul said that he could be a castaway (rejected) (I Cor. 9:27)

Calvinism is a drastically false set of teachings. From beginning to end it abounds with beliefs contrary to the scriptures. Once the first step is accepted, all the other steps, of necessity, fall into place.